Troublesome Topic: YHVH or YHWH?

The divine name I express as YHVH was considered by the Hebrews to be the greatest name of their God. They revered it so much that they never pronounced the name, therefore we cannot be sure how we should pronounce it. During the public reading of Scripture they would substitute the name “Adonai.” YHVH is rendered in the KJV as LORD (all caps) while Adonai is rendered as Lord (first letter cap). The scribes who copied the Old Testament scrolls would leave a blank space when they came to this special name for God. After they had copied for quite a while, they would go wash their hands (if I understand correctly they would wash them seven times), then return to fill in the spaces with this name of God.

      This name comes from the verb of being, “I am.” It is the name God used to identify Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God is the I AM, which implies that He always has existed and always will be. He is the ever living, always present God. It carries with it the sense of presence. However, He is not just living and active, He wants to be close to us. To the Israelites, this was the most personal and intimate of all the names of God. While all other religions of the world have a deity figure that is far away and should be feared, we have a God that wants to be close to us and wants us to love Him. Our relationship with Him should include a proper degree of fear, but it is combined with love and intimacy. Our God is characterized by a perfect balance of holiness and kindness. The ancient Hebrews understood this multifaceted aspect of God’s character, and they correctly deduced that the name which communicates His closeness, His approachableness, and His desire for intimacy is worthy of being given the status of the loftiest of all names for God.

     I choose to write it with only the consonants because their form of Hebrew only included the consonants, and writing it that way reminds us that we are not sure how they pronounced this special name for God. When you see YHVH in my translated verses, I suggest you do what the Israelites did – substitute the name Adonai in its place.

     Why do I use a V instead of a W, YHVH rather than YHWH? The Hebrew letter used is half way between our W and our V. How is that possible? It was what linguists call a fricative, meaning that the upper and lower lips are placed almost together but not quite, and air is blown between them. This is done without puckering. If you try this you will realize that it is not like our V in which the upper lip touches the lower teeth, nor like our W for which we have to pucker. That is why this Hebrew letter is sometimes called a Wow and sometimes called a Vav. It had its own sound which is unlike anything in English.

This is similar to the difference between a V and a B in Spanish. They are both fricatives and sound like neither the English B nor V. At the beginning of a word there is sometimes a slight difference in how they sound, but in the middle of a word they are identical and Spanish speakers cannot tell which one is use. In order to learn how to write a word with one of those letters in the middle of it children will often ask “Es v de vaca, o b de burro?” “is it V of vaca (cow), or the B of Burro (donkey)?”

Because the Hebrew letter in question is half way between a V and a W, it could be said that either YHVH or YHWH is acceptable. I have chosen to use YHVH because I think it is closest to the shape of the lips required to form the fricative.

This is the last lesson in Why Are Parts of the Bible So hard to Understand?. Thank you for reading.